After seemingly endless stormy weather yesterday’s glorious sunshine and low wind were a reminder of days we’d gravitate to the airfield for flight. Not now though, as I looked wistfully at the sky and contemplated our dwindling currency. And currency is the one thing that we microlight pilots normally have over GA pilots.
I remember an instructor talking about flying GA. “You scrape together all the money it costs, get your licence, then it takes another month before you have the time and can afford it, scare yourself senseless and so it goes. Microlight pilots top up their fuel cans with their regular shop, and they are in the air so often it’s not a big deal. And that lack of currency is what causes all the accidents that happen.”
As he works in that field, it was no surprise that he was the one who found the accident report which told us that my beloved Skyranger Swift lasted no more than five weeks in her new home. What wrote her off was a pilot error accident. As someone with over 300 hours under his belt, the new owner was happy to get to know this sporty beast for the first time on take-off for a two-hour-plus trip in challenging weather. The fact that we heard no more after, “She’s safely in her new hangar. Good trip,” was explained when I was sent the accident report.
The plane I honed my skills on and had loads of fun in, the one that shot up like a rocket into the sky when you took off, had been written off. The news came in a week that was utterly grim weather-wise, but also the first time in weeks I had even been thinking about aeroplanes and flying.
I just loved India Alpha, and it was a wrench to part from her in the summer. She had been witness to so many firsts for me – from my first solo, to the first time I had landed away from home, done a long-haul trip or crossed the English Channel. She was the start of the most magnificent, demanding journey I have ever embarked on. Perhaps it was fitting that we found out months after it had happened, on the day officially considered the most miserable day of the entire year. I was surprised how it affected me.
“Can’t understand it, you and I did that as an exercise together, and you coped no problem,” said an instructor to me. I can honestly not remember doing so – trim full back on take-off. I simply compensated with pushing the stick forward. That the plane shoots – correction, shot up in the air, was true. But the new owner instead cut the throttle before he pushed the nose forward. The plane stalled, dropped a wing and landed in a heap I am sure he was thankful to crawl out of. He told us it wasn’t as bad as it sounded, but he was taken away in an air ambulance. Another crash that ended in a fatality sounds sadly similar, so perhaps that is where the difference lies – with 300 hours the experienced pilot only injured himself, while the new pilot died.
It’s a chilling thought as we are all desperate to get back up into the air, but every time we fly, we are at risk of these sort of judgement errors. Risks which, if I am honest, I would rather not be thinking about. I have written about cutting the throttle on take-off for the first time in the Colt, but that big lumbering old bird takes her time getting up to speed, and it was my first proper lesson, so I had an instructor next to me.
Some of the clues to the accident must also lie in the words, “He was in a rush, he’d been distracted.” There has never been a time when everyone else in the air is so completely out of currency as we all will be post lockdown. You may be quite legally within the limits, but it’s more about being at ease with being in the air again, so you don’t scare yourself – or others – senseless. The more you prepare, the lower your workload. Slowing it all down, doing thorough checks and thinking things through before you leap into your plane and take off into the blue, is what will mean a smooth transition when we finally get the freedom to fly again.
At least in this miserable weather you aren’t thinking, “I could have been up there”, which perhaps makes the waiting more bearable.
Here’s to safe skies for all of us.
For anyone interested in more about returning to flying post Covid lockdowns, here’s a good video from Gasco.